Friday 5 October 2018

Short Story 2018 Longlist, Abhishek Hazra

Cafe Seaside

“I think I have had enough Priya, there seem to be no end to your ignorance. Not sure what you want from me or from life in general.” Karan was staring out at the sea, while Priya sat across with her chin resting against her folded hands on the table.

Priya looked bored of the melodrama, she had come to Cafe Seaside because she had wanted to have some beer and hog on the chicken lollipops, and definitely not be audience to another of these monologues, and not that Karan was a regular at it. Just that he has been redoing the scene in various poses and different surroundings for the last three days.

“God! Karan stop it yaar, I mean do you have a stop button which you know how to use? Of course you have had enough, and thank God you finally realise you have had enough cause I seem to have had more than enough of this nonsense.”
“You call this nonsense, Priya! I have been asking you to tell your parents about me for the last three days and you haven’t even answered the question”.
Priya didn’t answer, not until she finished another gulp of the beer.

Priya and Karan were B School classmates and had started seeing each other somewhere in between the Market Research field job and the Economics assignment, one was good in one and the other with the other one. Fortunately or unfortunately Priya Sanghvi and Karan Sen were roll number 9023 and 9024 respectively and that’s how destiny and forefathers (and their choice of last names) got them together.

“Karan we hardly know each other, what’s the rush, man? I don’t even know whether you are worth anything at all,” Priya chuckled “and listen don’t get into this sentimental trip. I know I am your first girlfriend and the first girl you ever kissed, must say what a loser.”
“You call me a loser for that, aren’t girls praying for a guy like that” Karan seemed pretty angry at the last comment, it was more of an ego buster.
“Praying for a guy like what, someone who no other girl found good enough to even kiss?” Enquired Priya dismissing that sorry look on Karan’s face.

Karan was from Nasik, did his schooling and his engineering from there, and scrapped through with enough marks to prevent himself from being disqualified for his MBA exams, 50.2% to be precise. Along with a few angry scowls from his father Karan was also struck with the realization that it was now or never for him and that’s what got him to sit and study for his MBA entrance and finally an admission in one of the best B School in Mumbai was a dream realized.

Priya had a little easier route, she had to pay a donation for the management seat.
“Excuse me, I was never interested in girls, it’s not like…” Karan was about to finish the sentence when Priya burst out laughing. “Yeah right, never interested in girls, by the way did you ever find out that Surya TV and Sun TV have sound”

“What do you mean, Priya? What do you mean? And for your information I never watched those channels either.” Karan was losing his patience. He was really unable to understand why Priya was not ready for this and what had changed since they both graduated.
“Karan, listen, you have plenty of problems at your end, take care of those first. You think you will be able to take care of me? Look at didi she got married and they moved to Toronto… Living a carefree life, travelling, partying having fun not having to bother about anything. Do you think you can give me all that? ”

Maybe Priya was right, Karan had enough on his hand. His dad was running a business which made almost as much money as the box office makes in advance booking for a Ram Gopal Varma production. His mother had lost her eye and needed an eye transplant to get her sight back, she was only 48. The house that they owned in Nasik was already under dispute between feuding brothers of which his father though the eldest and had the least financial muscle.
Karan’s placement was the only good news that the family had got in the last few years. Karan bagged a job with an Indian multinational bank pocketing a reasonable 36,000 rupees per month, and that gross but for Karan’s family it was more than what their business has managed to earn in the whole of last year. Thankfully Karan’s MBA fees had come from a bank loan and some of the fixed deposits which his father liquidated two years back.
Priya had opted out of placements and why not she had the option to join any of the six companies that her father owned.

“So is this about money Priya?” enquired Karan “Only about money? The two years we spent means nothing to you, did you not admit that you felt compatible with me? Why did you not tell me throughout this time that all you were looking for or wanted was a fling or just a person to chase you and make you feel important? I should have believed the other guys when they told me you would dump me, I should have seen it coming that it was just the attention you craved for and nothing else.”

Priya stood up, dropped 500 rupees note at the table, the bill wouldn’t have exceeded.
“Two years and each day 12 to 14 hours together, sitting together doing assignments together, people when they spend so much time with their pets or with the plants in their garden I think they get attached to them as well.
“You start your job tomorrow Karan? Congrats! How much do earn out of it after paying your 8000 odd education loan and the home loan you intend to take to pay off to your uncle and then the living expenses in Mumbai, what will you be left with?”

“A couple of thousands? Well Mr. Karan Sen, wake up if you haven’t yet, dad pays that much or more each time when we go out to eat a couple of meals in the week. My car guzzles in fuel which will exceed your monthly income. My dividends and earnings from my shares of my father’s company would annually be more than that.
“I am off to Delhi tomorrow to meet Saxena uncle’s son, I don’t want you to call me or chase me anymore, I didn’t want to end it harshly but you leave me with no choice, I might like Apurva and might have no reasons to say no to him
“And one last thing, I don’t know what your friends told you but then if you were warned and you weren’t smart enough to see it, then sit and suffer.”

Priya walked off, knowing fully well what Karan might be going through, vengeance was the only thing that would be on Karan’s mind and he will do anything to climb up the ladder in his corporate world and want to prove his worth. Like he had done several times in the last two years, of the many things about Karan, Priya had been very impressed by Karan’s ability to prove his worth when cornered. She still remembered the time when Karan had learned to swim in two days just because she had mocked him near the pool that he might not be able to save her if she fell.
But Karan won’t be able to achieve this one, he won’t be able to give her what she wanted, that too so soon and in a few days it might be too late. Priya was a practical girl and she knew she had to move on.

Karan stood there, unable to move, looking at the waves flow to beach and then go back. He felt as if the waves were laughing at the beach while retreating. The waves could have come that extra few yards and stayed, but they retreated and each time when they retreated they sucked out the water from the sand. Leaving just an after print of their arrival.
Karan wanted to avenge it, but somewhere he knew, he won’t be able to give her what she wanted, that too so soon and in a few days it might be too late. Priya was a practical girl and he knew she will to move on.

Karan engrossed himself in his work from day 1, it was 24 Apr 2011, and he was a week old and was in his first team meeting when his cell rang. He cut the call not wanting to annoy his manager, but when the cell rang again seeing his apologetic face his manager waved him asking him to go out and take the call. Karan jumped out of his seat and stepped out of the meeting room. He saw his dad’s number and was annoyed while answering the call “Baba, what is it? I am in the office.”

“Karan listen there is a good news, sorry but had to tell you. The NGO that has a tie up with the hospital where we showing your mother found an eye donor”
Karan was absolutely thrilled about this piece of news, though he knew that finding eye donor might not be as difficult as finding the money to do the surgery. He had already thought of saving for the surgery but he had just started earning. “But baba what about the expense for the surgery.”

“The NGO is paying for the surgery as well and we have to do the surgery today itself”
Karan was thrilled, seemed as if finally something good was happening in his life,” Baba thats great, but how come they agreed? I thought they said the last time around that their rules will allow them to channel their funds only to the people below poverty line” Karan had almost argued with the NGO coordinator that he is not too much above it either.
“Yes, I know but they said because the case was hanging for so long they gave me a call today asking me to come and complete the formalities. It seems like they have received some additional funding. How does it matter son? Will you come today?”

Karan took the bus out of Dadar, his boss was very supportive and allowed him a couple of days off followed by the weekend. Karan made the journey home, those were the first few hours of anxiety and excitement where he had finally managed to keep Priya out of his mind. He had felt like messaging Priya and telling her that one of the few things have got sorted but he knew Priya had changed her number. Karan had tried calling her from the office landline one day and her cell phone was switched off. He had felt extremely humiliated at been dumped and wanted to walk up to her house, but what would he say?
The operation went well, in a week his mother was back home and already planning on her schedule of which serials she would watch once the doctor allows.

End of May, Karan got a call from a placement consultant, an interview call with a Risk Consultancy firms, one of the best in the world. Karan had always wanted to join this company, he used to day dream about how he would rise up the chain in this company and reach the head office in New York as a Senior Vice President in 10 years. His batch mates laughed at him, but they had laughed at him when he day-dreamed of marrying Priya too. He wanted to inform every one of those batch mate of the call, but he had cut ties with everyone since that afternoon in Cafe Sea Side. He even removed his name from the Batch Distribution List and Facebook, from few of the friends he had bumped into it seemed like Priya also never got in touch with anyone.

The interview went well, to Karan’s surprise he knew most of the answers and the ones he did not were not too significant anyways. After an hour of grilling and the HR round, Karan was asked to join as there was an urgent onsite requirement in Europe. So urgent that they were ready to buy off his notice period too.

Karan signed all the documents and left the office, he wanted to scream his lungs off. He was happy, very very happy. He wanted to walk up to Priya and throw the offer letter highlighting the INR 14.5 lakh per annum figure with a fluorescent green highlighter, throw it on her face.
God had been kind to him, his revenge delivered without too much of delay. He couldn’t stop himself, he tried Priya’s number, and the phone was switched off. He knew it was his day he had to go to her and laugh at her. He had the landline number which he had never used or saved but he vaguely remembered it, Priya had called him from that number.

Karan called, “Hello, can I speak to Priya?”
“Who is this?” the lady on the other side enquired.
“Ah, this is Karan, Priya’s batch mate from MBA, I am sorry but I was trying her number for the last few days not sure if she has changed it”.
“Karan, this is Priya’s mother. You are Karan Sen right?”
“Oh hello aunty, yes its Karan Sen. I am sorry to have called on this number, but…”
“No that’s ok Karan, Priya is not here, but she has left a few things which she wanted me to hand over to you she had mentioned you might call. I am leaving for our Juhu office in five mins, can you meet me there?”

Karan jotted down the address, unsure of what would she had to hand over. He remembered the trinklet, the CDs and the cards which Karan had gifted and obviously Apurva would not appreciate Priya still having them, but he couldn’t tell her mother that I don’t want them back. He had to be civil to her, she was. Also Karan wanted to ensure that the story of the “Rise of Karan Sen” reaches Priya.

Karan walked into the office, he was seeing Priya’s mother for the first time in person, Karan had seen some snaps in the past but in person the lady sitting across appeared a rather pale and gloomy lady. Karan wondered, all this money couldn’t get a smile to her face.

She signaled Karan to sit and started talking without even making eye contact with Karan,
“In January Priya came to know that she had a critical condition, she had a hole in her heart. We consulted several doctors but we were told that it was a bit too late. Priya had never complained of any issues except for a bit of breathlessness which we always thought was because of her laziness. We wanted to get the operation done right then, she had opted out of placements but she had said that she wanted your placements to get over before the surgery happens. We all knew there was very little chance of her survival. She knew that too.

“She had put forward a few last wishes, one was donating her eye to your mother if something happens to her and paying for the surgery as well and another one was to hand over this note to you, she asked me to tell you to open it when you are alone and at Cafe Sea Side.”

Karan was shocked, he did not move for a minute, he just wanted to be transported to some other place and some other time. He could barely see Mrs. Sanghvi was almost in tears when she got up and said,” I have to leave, do visit us when you can beta.” She pushed an envelope in Karan’s hand and her business card as well, “Call us when you wish to.”

Karan got up, just as Priya’s mother was leaving, though he did not have an ounce of strength in him but he wanted to read what was in the letter. He was a few yards away from Mrs. Sanghavi when a question crossed his mind, “Aunty! Did she ask someone to set up the interview I gave today?” Priya’s mother stopped in her stride but did not answer she turned to look at Karan but quickly slid her glares to cover her tearful eyes and walked away.

Karan was heartbroken, he ran, ran out of the door, through the stairs, down the road, he ran, he didn’t care for the traffic the screeching horns the beggar trying to stop him, the onlookers seeing a frantic boy run, he ran till he reached Cafe Sea Side.

It was almost evening and he could see the sun going down, the crimson colour engulfing the water, the waves did not hit the shore so strongly today. Somehow it looked as if the waves were desperately trying to stay on the beach but something pulled them back each time they tried to come ashore. He ripped open the envelope and pulled out the note. It wasn’t a letter just a few words:
I could not give you whole of my heart cause I had a hole in my heart. – Love Forever, Priya

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